Eugene Florence’s love affair with preaching the gospel has lasted longer than most marriages—67 years. But at 102, Florence is still going strong.
Florence will preach at his alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in the seminary’s chapel service on Valentine’s Day Feb. 14. The chapel service begins at 10:50 a.m. in Truett Auditorium.
Born in 1904, Florence began taking classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s so-called “Negro extension centers” in 1943 when he was 39 years old. The extension centers, located in and around Fort Worth, Texas, only offered four credit hours during any one semester, and classes were held only in the evening. After eight years, Florence received a degree—but not the master of divinity degree white students received.
In December 2004, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson awarded the long-awaited master’s degree to Florence three months shy of his 101st birthday. Patterson then said that Florence had “done everything that all the other students had done to earn a master’s degree,” but that the seminary didn’t award master’s degrees in 1951 to “men of color.”
Patterson said the seminary could not go back and undo the wrong done to Florence, but it could apologize and issue to Florence what was rightfully his. Florence’s extended family attended the graduation ceremony. His daughter, Emma Williams, 75, said that she wasn’t concerned about the past.
“It doesn’t matter whether they did it when it was supposed to be done, but it was done God said it was supposed to be done … in the fullness of time,” Williams said.
Chapel services are held Tuesday-Thursday on the seminary’s Fort Worth campus. The services are open to the public and media.